Legal pot hopes go up in smoke at NY Capitol

ALBANY — Despite statewide polling showing increased public support for legalized marijuana, a measure that would allow the sale and possession of recreational cannabis has hit a stone wall at the statehouse, people on both sides of the debate said Wednesday.

One of the prime sponsors of the controversial proposal, Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, said the battle will continue, though the current push went up in smoke as the time clock ran out on the 2019 session.

“We came very close to crossing the finish line, but we ran out of time,” she said. “I have no doubt that prohibition is an outdated and irrational policy, and its days are numbered.”

“Seriously flawed”

The debate became increasingly intense in recent weeks, with the New York State Sheriffs Association, the statewide lobby for physicians, and an advocacy group for drug treatment programs calling the legislation seriously flawed.

It was also opposed by a coalition of county government health administrators.

There was some speculation that lawmakers could still patch together legislation that would decriminalize marijuana and allow criminal records for cannabis-related offenses to be expunged.

There are also proposals that would allow an expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program and allow the agriculture industry to cultivate hemp.

Reacting to the demise of the marijuana legalization proposal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who supports the measure, suggested lawmakers could still tackle the bill allowing for decriminalization of marijuana.

“I was asked earlier this week on a radio show if I would settle for decriminalization as a backup, and I said I keep fighting and only ‘tend to give up on hour 20 when there’s four hours left in the session,'” he said. “We have now reached “hour 20.”

Cuomo noted he has supported decriminalization for six years.

“The time to act is now,” he said.

Mass. bonanza

The drive for legalizing the drug, which remains prohibited under federal law, appeared to get a boost this month when the New York State Farm Bureau announced its support and a statewide poll from Siena College reported that 55 percent of New Yorkers back its legalization, too.

Advocates have contended the state would reap hundreds of millions in revenue from pot taxes. They have also pointed to reports that the treasury of the neighboring state of Massachusetts has raked in a bonanza, with hundreds of New Yorkers going there to stand in long lines outside legal pot dispensaries within several miles of the Empire State.

“Would rain money”

Spearheading the opposition at the statehouse has been Smart Alternatives to Marijuana (SAM), a national group that is against legalization but favors decriminalization. Its president, Kevin Sabet, warned that legalization comes with “enormous” costs that would result in county and local governments saddled with new expenses and leaving local taxpayers on the hook.

“The industry told people it would rain money for a host of pet projects, that our young people wouldn’t be at risk and drugged driving concerns were overblown,” Sabet said Wednesday.

“Thankfully, New York’s parents, doctors, law enforcement, teachers and many lawmakers didn’t fall for the con.”

One of SAM’s allies has been the New York State Parents Teachers Association, whose leaders have joined anti-pot press conferences in Albany.

Republicans opposed

The Assembly sponsor of the marijuana legalization measure is Assembly Majority Leader Crystal-Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo.

Among Senate opponents of legal pot is Betty Little, R-Queensbury.

But new state Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy told reporters in Albany recently that he will likely stay out of the marijuana legalization fight.


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